The Chester County Commissioners and the Chester County Agricultural Development Council (Ag Council) presented two annual agriculture awards this week.
“It is a joy to recognize the hard work of farmers in our community,” said Commissioners’ Chair Marian Moskowitz. “Agriculture is vitally important to Chester County, and this is an opportunity to highlight some of the leaders of that industry. Congratulations to Jamie Hicks and the Baily family.”
Farmer of the Year Award
The 2022 Chester County Farmer of the Year award was presented to Jamie Hicks, owner-operator of Hicks IV, a crop farming business on over 5,000 leased acres in Chester County and the surrounding region. He also farms land for high-profile organizations, including Longwood Gardens and land trusts. Jamie’s customers include everyone from equestrians with a few horses to large-scale dairies.
Hicks is widely regarded in the agriculture community for his entrepreneurial drive, sustainable farming practices, and innovative partnerships with research institutions such as Stroud Water Research.
“Jamie Hicks is a leader in Chester County’s agriculture industry in every sense,” said Commissioner Josh Maxwell. “His business is a great example of how successful farming and environmental stewardship go hand-in-hand.”
Hicks sees promise in farmers driving agribusiness, the cross-section of agriculture and business – from production and processing to distribution. He believes the way forward is with new markets and product opportunities, such as Pennsylvania’s emerging hemp industry, and partnering with nontraditional customers interested in environmentally-friendly packaging materials, like online retailers.
“We need to find ways to connect the next generation of farmers to the land and focus on emerging industries,” Hicks says. “We need to connect agriculture to industry.”
According to Hicks, Chester County is a great place to farm because of the easy access to ports and large consumer markets, including New York, Philadelphia, and Washington. This proximity means fluctuations in fuel prices aren’t as big of a concern as in other parts of the country where farmers have higher transportation costs. Hicks added, “We are also close to the mushroom industry that supplies fertilizer for my fields and important clients like the dairy industry.”
Hicks recommends that new farmers look at least ten years into the future and anticipate how agricultural products can best serve emerging business trends. Working with more experienced farmers first is also crucial, he said.
Hicks was nominated for the Farmer of the Year Award by the Chester County Agricultural Development Council.
The Duncan Allison Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award
This year’s Duncan Allison Award for Distinguished Service to Agriculture goes to the Baily family of Baily’s Dairy of Pocopson Meadow Farm in West Chester. Three generations of the family operate Baily’s Dairy, including patriarch Bernard Baily; daughter Becky Baily and her husband Eric Cockroft; daughter Meredith Parsons and her son Tyler Parsons.
The family is recognized for positively promoting local agriculture and serving as community ambassadors on the industry’s behalf. They have played an integral role in hosting the Chester Valley Dairy 4-H club and leasing cows to young club members who wouldn’t otherwise be able to participate.
Commissioner Michelle Kichline said, “The Baily family is an example of farmers who want to share the experience of living and working on a farm with others across Chester County. They are commended for their devotion to teaching youth about raising farm animals and letting children see a cow up-close, sometimes for the first time. Thank you to the three generations of Baily’s who continue the traditions of farming.”
Becky Baily, who oversees the milking and processing, said, “We grew up on the farm and were used to how things worked. Now, so many kids in Chester County are removed from the farm but want to get involved once they visit us.”
The family is also deeply involved in helping to host the livestock portions of several area county fairs and festivals, which are often the first time children meet farmers and see livestock up close.
Meredith Parsons, who oversees school field trips to the farm, says she especially loves working with the younger children because they may have read about farm animals but may never have seen them in person. “They are amazed to see how big a cow really is in-person,” she laughs.
The pandemic provided even more opportunities for the Baily family to make a difference, especially when their Chester Valley Dairy 4-H club members brought special bovine visitors to nearby Pocopson Home residents in the summer of 2020.
“It made the Pocopson residents so happy to see the cows,” recalls Meredith. “It was a really special moment for them and the 4-H kids.”
“The Baily family does a wonderful job teaching Chester County residents young and old about the importance of local agriculture,” says Ag Council Director Hillary Krummrich. “We are fortunate to have farmers like them who make the extra effort to help people understand where our food comes from.”
Learn more about Chester County’s agriculture industry at www.chescofarming.org.